Wednesday 2 August 2023

Worldcoin accused of unethical practices shortly after its official launch

 Worldcoin, recently launched by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, is now facing allegations of unethical practices. It has been accused of targeting lower-income communities instead of focusing on crypto enthusiasts to gain users.

These allegations stemmed from the "social assistance giveaway" distribution of Worldcoin in December 2022 in the village of Gunungguruh in Indonesia. The residents said the company offered cash, local currency and promises of future wealth to the program participants. However, the catch was villagers had to undergo iris scanning in a mysterious device called the "chrome orb."

Using all the data, the MIT Technology Review conducted an investigation and interviewed more than 35 individuals across six countries to shed light on the matter. The investigation revealed discrepancies between the public messaging of the company and user experience. Moreover, Worldcoin representatives appeared to have collected more personal data than they disclosed and failed to obtain meaningful informed consent.

Anastasia Golovina, the spokesperson for Worldcoin, insisted that the company ensured that all users who participated in the field testing were provided with full disclosure about the data collection process and its intended usage. Users were also required to provide explicit consent before signing up. However, several interviewees claimed they were not explicitly informed about the data collection.

Meanwhile, investor and real estate guru George Gammon took to Twitter to condemn the technology, expressing concern over the integration of a global digital ID, cryptocurrency, artificial intelligence and universal basic income. "It's literally not possible to create something that sounds worse," Gammon tweeted, reflecting the apprehensions shared by some about the potential societal and privacy implications of this technology.

Worldcoin unethically collects biometric data in vulnerable communities

During recruitment events, Worldcoin staff registered students, most of whom were minors, and collected their biometric data rather than providing proper information about cryptocurrency and the company. Attendees were promised an allotment of Worldcoin that would vest weekly to further attract participants.

For instance, in West Java, Indonesia, Worldcoin hosted events in around 20 villages during the pandemic. Many new users were enticed by giveaways, and some village officials were allegedly paid for promoting the registration drives of Worldcoin. Such payments, if true, would be illegal under the anti-corruption and anti-bribery laws of Indonesia.

However, Worldcoin representatives claimed to be unaware of the incident and insisted that they have initiated an investigation. They suggested that the payments might have been used for legitimate operational expenses, contradicting the accounts provided by the officials and operators involved.

Furthermore, the startup has also faced criticism for its lack of transparency and clarity with new users and orb operators. Some operators reported receiving minimal information and training about privacy and data collection practices. Data consent forms and instructions are also provided in English despite local users not being fluent in the language.

During the field testing, photographs, videos of users' faces and 3D body maps were captured to train Worldcoin's "anti-fraud algorithm" to differentiate between people. Others claim that during signing up, representatives still requested additional personal data.

Worldcoin representatives claimed they never asked for such information, yet many users reported being asked to provide their email addresses and, in some cases, phone numbers. Golovina, refuted these claims, stating that email addresses and phone numbers were not mandatory for sign-up but were requested to provide additional features like the ability to send and receive Worldcoin.

Golovina denied any wrongdoing on Worldcoin's part and reiterated the company's commitment to user consent and data privacy. She emphasized that users could revoke their consent at any time, and their data would be deleted accordingly.

Pete Howson, a senior lecturer at Northumbria University and a researcher in the international development of cryptocurrency, argued that Worldcoin's actions exemplify a form of crypto-colonialism, where "blockchain and cryptocurrency experiments are being imposed on vulnerable communities," taking advantage of their limited financial resources and legal protections.

Howson warned that decentralization in the blockchain realm can lead to limited accountability when things go wrong. "You'll often hear this phrase 'Do Your Own Research,' or DYOR, because these guys don't care much for rules and regulations."

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